5 bikes that'll make you stand out in a crowd

Now live
04:00 mins.

The history of the bicycle

The bicycle might have turned 200 last year, but it keeps inspiring new models that will turn more than a few heads. The high wheeler is a classic that's being rediscovered by modern designers too.

A penny-farthing used to be a status symbol for well-off young men in Great Britain towards the end of the 19th century: The high wheelers were the latest craze.

Their front wheel had a diameter of up to 1.5 meters (60 inches). It made them faster than previously developed models and the big wheel also helped absorb shocks while riding, because bike tubes didn't exist yet.

Fixed hub, no brakes

Getting up on the high wheeler was a challenge. While standing on a small footboard with one foot, the other one had to scoot the bicycle forward to get it rolling. Once it was fast enough, the rider was to quickly jump on the seat and pedal. Penny-farthings didn't have any gears or brakes like we know them now. Speed was controled with the pedals. 

5 bikes that are bound to grab everyone's attention

The high wheel

Also known as the penny-farthing, it was the first machine to be called a "bicycle." Swedish architect Per-Olof Kippel developed his own high wheelers in 2013. He says most of his clients learn how to ride them within an hour. Any advantages over a normal bike? Not really – except you get to look into truckers' windows and see over hedges. And you'll stand out in a crowd.

5 bikes that are bound to grab everyone's attention

The Kwiggle

It weighs 8.5 kilos (18.7 pounds) and is half the size of a normal folding bike.The Kwiggle claims to be the world's most compact foldable bike. It can even fit into carry-on luggage. This bike's target market is clear: commuters. The riding position is somewhat unusual – standing on the pedals – but office workers sit way too much anyway.

5 bikes that are bound to grab everyone's attention

The Halfbike

You also stay in a standing position to ride this bicycle-skateboard hybrid. The handlebar is not used for steering; to turn, you rather need to shift your weight in a given direction. It requires balance but its wheels make it easy to maneuver. The creators of the Halfbike, Martin Angelov and Mihail Klenov, are two architects and passionate cyclists from Bulgaria's capital, Sofia.

5 bikes that are bound to grab everyone's attention

The bed bike

This bulky model is not one that can be bought for private use, but you can book a tour on it in Berlin. A red double bed has been built onto a cycle rickshaw. Tourists visiting the city can lie down and let the bed bike rider rock them around its landmarks. An extra feature: You become one of Berlin's objects of interest as well.

5 bikes that are bound to grab everyone's attention

The Lopifit

Should you cycle or walk? With the Dutch Lopifit, you get to do both - and you're twice as fast. You get it moving by walking on a treadmill that propels an electric motor. With it, you can pass by any cyclist by walking at a comfortable pace. The brakes are on the handlebar, but you can also simply stop walking and the Lopifit will gently come to a halt.

Read more: Mobility for billions: The bicycle is 200!

Because the pedals were directly fixed to the hub, they were always turning with the wheels. To avoid getting their feet caught in the pedals while rolling at high speed, riders would either spread their legs apart or adventurously put their feet up on the handlebar. That also allowed them to be pitched off feet-first instead of head-first if they had to fall.

Hazardous falls

There were nevertheless serious, sometimes fatal accidents with the penny-farthing. At the end of the 19th century, John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire for bicycles, abruptly ending the high-wheeler era. Lower bicycles with inner tubes were not only more comfortable, but also much safer.

Enthusiasts are now rediscovering high wheelers, along with other unusual bikes that can be seen on European roads. See some of them in the High Five gallery above.

Related Subjects